Grant to retrofit county transporation with propane in limbo
Published: Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 4:24 p.m.
Davidson County could lose a $74,000 grant that would retrofit county transportation buses to run on both gasoline and propane if negotiations between the county and propane distributor Blossman Gas fall through
The money was made available to the county in September from a cancelled project for the N.C. Solar Center at N.C. State University.
At the Davidson County Board of Commissioners informational meeting Thursday, county Purchasing Director Dwayne Childress presented the board with bids to retrofit 12 buses, install a propane fueling station and certify and train county staff on the propane system and maintenance and fueling.
With EnergyUnited providing an incomplete bid — not bidding on the retrofit cost — and Carolane Propane providing retrofit costs near double that of Blossman's bid, Childress recommended to the board an all-inclusive bid from Blossman of $71,621.
Concerning to commissioners was a required five-year contract with Blossman to purchase propane fuel solely from the business. The company also stamped a 55-cent charge on fuel sales as part of the deal.
"If we have to buy from one guy, we have no way to be competitive," board vice chairman Larry Potts said. "Whatever they say the price of gas is that week, that's what we pay."
County Public Works Director Rex Buck noted that on average, propane is about 70 cents cheaper than gasoline, and the county could benefit from a 50-cent tax credit for purchasing propane. The credit will expire in December if not re-approved at the state level, but Buck pointed out the credit has been renewed for the past six years.
The uncertainty seemed to worry commissioners, who were forced to take some form of action Thursday as the grant must be spent by the end of the year. With that in mind,
commissioners followed a motion by Todd Yates to accept the grant to pay only for the retrofit and advised Childress to negotiate the rest of the bid. Commissioners approved the motion 5-0; commissioners Cathy Dunn and Fred McClure were absent but excused by the board.
"I'll go back to Blossman Gas and see if they'll do just the retrofit, and then we'll go out and figure the tank and dispensing unit sometime in the future, probably over the next several days," Childress said. "But the way Blossman presented their bid it was basically all or nothing. If they choose not to do that retrofit, the money will go back to N.C. State."
Commissioners' board chairman Sam Watford said he hated to pass on grant opportunities but was concerned about a five-year fuel contract if the pricing index jumped.
"I could go for this thing today if you said that in 18 months' time or two years' time this would make money," he said. "I've seen propane (prices) go up and down over the years."
David Bodenheimer can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or at email@example.com.